Interesting to hear from veteran American political commentator EJ Dionne on Radio National this morning that the North Korean nuclear test is making only a very small splash in the US media. Dionne even suggested that President Obama might ignore North Korea entirely in his State of the Union message later today.
That strikes me as sensible diplomacy. Unless your aim is to make a case for higher defence spending (clearly not Obama's ambition) or you are planning an escalation of the dispute with North Korea (we have no indication of that either*), what is to be gained by hyping the threat further? Better to apply the logic that ought also govern our responses to terrorism: just refuse to be terrorised. Don't let a significant but containable threat distort your foreign policy, and above all don't respond recklessly to provocation.
As for the North Korean perspective, I would still apply the same logic as after the 2009 test: don't look at this test purely as a 'signal' from North Korea to its adversaries. The regime wants these weapons not as negotiation tools but because they will provide a level of security which they think nothing else can substitute for. And that's the real problem at the heart of the negotiation process: nothing the West or even China can offer Pyongyang is as valuable to them as nuclear weapons.
We'll have more detailed commentary on the nuclear test soon.
* NB: Media articles are referring to possible new sanctions, but I had in mind a military escalation, such as moving additional forces into the region or staging exercises.
Photo by Flickr user Joseph A Ferris III.